The Quiet House by Charlotte Mew

Red is the strangest pain to bear;

In Spring the leaves on the budding trees;

In Summer the roses are worse than these,

More terrible than they are sweet:

A rose can stab you across the street

Deeper than any knife:

And the crimson haunts you everywhere –

Thin shafts of sunlight, life the ghosts of reddened swords

Have struck our stair

As if, coming down, you had split your life.

I think that my soul is red

Like the soul of a sword or a scarlet flower:

But when these are dead

They have had their hour.

I shall have mine, too,

For from head to feet,

I am burned and stabbed half through,

And the pain is deadly sweet.

The things that kill us seem

Blind to the death they give:

It is only in our dream

The things that kill us live.

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    • Guest
    • October 25th, 2011

    This is wrong… If you edit a poem, you must specify that such action has taken place so as to prevent reader confusion.

      • rareroundheadrubies
      • November 2nd, 2011

      I did not edit the poem, I read it from a book and assumed that it was the authentic version.

        • Beth
        • February 10th, 2013

        Hi there, any chance you could tell me which book? I’m studying this poem at uni and have to compare varying edits and prints of it – it would really help if I could analyse the print version of this edition!

    • Guest
    • December 11th, 2011

    My apologies for being so aggressive. Mew is extremely talented with a unique voice, and it angers me that she is not better known. Here is the original version for your information. This is the version that comes from Eavan Boland’s selected poems of Charlotte Mew.

    The Quiet House

    When we were children Old Nurse used to say
    The house was like an auction or a fair
    Until the lot of us were safe in bed.
    It has been quiet as the country-side
    Since Ted and Janey and then Mother died
    And Tom crossed Father and was sent away.
    After the lawsuit he could not hold up his head,
    Poor father, and he does not care
    For people here, or to go anywhere.

    To get away to Aunt’s for that week-end
    Was hard enough; (since then, a year ago,
    He scarcely lets me slip out of his sight–)
    At first I did not like my cousin’s friend,
    I did not think I should remember him:
    His voice has gone, his face is growing dim
    And if I like him now I do not know.
    He frightened me before he smiled–
    He did not ask me if he might–
    He said that he would come one Sunday night,
    He spoke to me as if I were a child.

    No year has been like this that has just gone by;
    It may be that what Father says is true,
    If things are so it does not matter why:
    But everything has burned and not quite through.
    The colors of the world have turned
    To flame, the blue, the gold has burned
    In what used to be such a leaden sky.
    When you are burned quite through you die.
    Red is the strangest pain to bear;
    In Spring the leaves on the budding trees;
    In Summer the roses are worse than these,
    More terrible than they are sweet:
    A rose can stab you across the street
    Deeper than any knife:
    And the crimson haunts you everywhere–
    Thin shafts of sunlight, like the ghosts of reddened swords
    have struck our stair
    As if, coming down, you had split your life.

    I think that my soul is red
    Like the soul of a sword or a scarlet flower:
    But when these are dead
    They have had their hour.

    I shall have had mine, too,
    For from head to feet,
    I am burned and stabbed half through,
    And the pain is deadly sweet.

    Then things that kill us seem
    Blind to the death they give:
    It is only in our dream
    The things that kill us live.

    The room is shut where Mother died,
    The other rooms are as they were,
    The world goes on the same outside,
    The sparrows fly across the Square,
    The children play as we four did there,
    The trees grow green and brown and bare,
    The sun shines on the dead Church spire,
    And nothing lives here but the fire,

    While Father watches from his chair
    Day follows day
    The same, or now and then, a different grey,
    Till, like his hair,
    Which Mother said was wavy once and bright,
    They will all turn white.

    To-night I heard a bell again–
    Outside it was the same mist of fine rain,
    The lamps just lighted down the long, dim street,
    No one for me–
    I think it is myself I go there to meet:
    I do not care; some day I shall not think; I shall not be!

      • rareroundheadrubies
      • January 16th, 2012

      Thank you, it is beautiful.

    • Keith james
    • September 23rd, 2012

    I do not really understand it from the 4th stanza on wards any help?? Apart from pain what exactly does red signify

      • rareroundheadrubies
      • October 15th, 2012

      …Memories that are vivid whilst others grow dim with age…the protagonist’s own coming into self – a passion hard to contain, no way of release…blood ties that bind…

      At least that is my interpretation. Hope that helped a little.

  1. Superb web log you have here but I was curious if you knew of any user discussion
    forums that cover the same topics talked about here?

    • Ling ling
    • September 8th, 2013

    Can anyone further explain what this poem is talking about?

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